As we still struggle to find the right balance between strategy, action, leadership and community input, I was reflecting on the Santa Cruz model which was developed to influence the rebuild of downtown Santa Cruz after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Here is an extract from my trip report after a visit to Santa Cruz in June 2011”.
The “Gang of 36” was formed post earthquake. There were 18 nominess from the Chamber of Commerce and 18 nominess from the local council. The committee was co-chaired with one chair from each of the groups. It operated on consensus and developed a 200 page plan for the future of Santa Cruz which I have on file.
The group brought in outside experts to look at design, economic development, investment funding, housing, great streets, great down town etc. The group developed its vision, which was fundamentally based around “civic living room” for down town Santa Cruz. The City Council did not delegate authority to the “Gang of 36” but adopted all of the recommendations from “Gang of 36”. The Council’s representation on “Gang 36” included the Mayor and some city councilors.
Initially in Santa Cruz there was a high level of dysfunctional relationships between local Government and business. The “Gang of 36” operating on consensus tended to overcome that dysfunction. One of the keys issues of the “Gang of 36” was that once a decision had been made there was no going back. This gave certainty for the pathway forward.
The “Gang of 36” was formed three months after the earthquake which involved initially a Council that was anti-development and kept the business community on the outside. Downtown was already dying quietly before the earthquake.
There were two parts to the “Gang of 36” plan; One was “Vision and Principals” and two was “what does the redevelopment mean in terms of the details of what the city will look like, is the city attractive to investors”? The degree of autocracy involved, I was advised, depends on the political and cultural context. Cities usually get general consensus but it is highly perishable, leadership has to protect that consensus through the media etc. by reinforcing again and again the vision. There needs to be agreement between the Council and the private sector on specific projects with specific outcomes. The involvement in design was a process which was truly participative and involved a consensus outcome.
Worth considering, I would have thought.